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The first Bulgarian F-16 Is Nearing The End Of Production

A delegation of Bulgarian authorities visited the facility of the American company Lockheed Martin in Greenville, South Carolina, where the assembly of the first of 16 F-16C/D Block 70 multi-role aircraft for the air force will soon be completed.

January 16th, 2024. Bulgarian Minister of Defense Todor Tagarev, Ambassador of Bulgaria to the USA Georgi Panayotov, and Chief of Defense Admiral Emil Eftimov visited the Lockheed Martin F-16 production facility in Greenville last week to assess the progress on the F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft, which are intended for their country.

Photos: Lockheed Martin

Currently, seven multi-role aircraft ordered by Bulgaria are in various stages of production. The maiden flight of the first Bulgarian F-16 is scheduled for later this year.

OJ Sanchez, Vice President and General Manager of the Integrated Fighter Group at Lockheed Martin, commented on the visit:

As part of the ongoing contract, Bulgaria is acquiring modern and proven fighters that will serve it for decades as part of 21st Century Security, ensuring the highest combat capability and interoperability within the NATO alliance. We are proud that the most advanced F-16 aircraft ever built will be delivered to Bulgaria, thus enhancing the defense capabilities of the country.

Bulgaria will be the second European country to receive the F-16C/D Block 70. So far, the production line in Greenville has already assembled 135 aircraft of this version, making this facility one of the key contributors to the security of allied nations worldwide.

Press release


This is not the first visit of a Bulgarian delegation to the USA to inspect the progress on the F-16 aircraft for it’s air force (Voennovëzdušni sili, VVS). On November 11, 2023, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense presented the first yet unfinished aircraft.

According to the current schedule, the first two aircraft, including one F-16C and one F-16D, are expected to be completed by the end of July 2024. Deliveries to the recipient will commence no later than the end of March 2025.

Bulgaria ordered 16 F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft, with the first eight ordered in July 2019 in the latest production version, for the equivalent of $1.256 billion, and the remaining eight in September 2021. However, these were expected to be delayed, and according to information from February 17, 2022, the first deliveries were supposed to start no earlier than 2024 (and actually, it is supposed to involve symbolic handover in the USA, where Bulgarian personnel are trained, rather than relocation to Bulgaria). The main reason for the delays, primarily among Lockheed Martin subcontractors, was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, they were planned to be fulfilled between 2023 and 2027.

The Bulgarian Air Force possesses 11 MiG-29A/UB fighter aircraft, stationed at the 3rd Fighter Air Base at Graf Ignatievo airfield. However, this fleet is gradually decreasing in size (in 2021, it had 14 aircraft), and it suffers from low operational readiness (during that time, only 5-7 were expected to be operational). Additionally, one of the aircraft was lost in crash on June 9, 2021. Consequently, the government in Sofia declined to transfer these aircraft to Ukraine for combat operations without support in terms of equipment from their allies.

Originally, in the years 1989-1990, the Soviet Union supplied Bulgaria with 22 MiG-29 aircraft, including 18 single-seat MiG-29A (9.12A) and 4 two-seat MiG-29UB (9.51). On September 29, 1994, MiG-29A with tactical number 25 crashed (the base commander of Ravnec, Major Ivan Dayev, was killed), and on April 26, 2012, MiG-29UB with tactical number 19 and serial number 26333 was involved in an accident (the entire crew was killed). Interestingly, the latter aircraft was later used by the Bulgarian TEREM “Georgi Benkovski” company to develop a refurbishment project and was subsequently sold to Poland in 2015 without engines. In 2020, the then Minister of Defense, Krasimir Karakachanov, spoke in the parliament about the need to sell the old aircraft.

By the end of 2023, Lockheed Martin had produced the first two Slovak F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft (out of 14 ordered) and two for Bahrain (out of 16 ordered). On January 10 of this year, Bratislava formally received these aircraft.

Lockheed Martin has received orders for 136 F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft so far, and this number will soon increase to 148. These orders come from various countries, including Bulgaria, Slovakia, Bahrain, Jordan (12 units), Morocco (25 units), and Taiwan (66 units). Additionally, the aircraft are being offered to India (as the F-21 variant), Ukraine, the Philippines, Colombia, and Vietnam. It appears that there may soon be a breakthrough regarding the 40 F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft for Turkey, after Ankara gave the green light to Sweden within NATO.

In the production of the latest F-16s, Lockheed Martin’s subsidiary Polish-based PZL Mielec has been involved. On August 29, 2023, it announced the completion of the production of the first rear fuselage structure for this aircraft.


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